6.51007 Climbing Structure 07

Richter Sustainability Road Map

Life Cycle Assessment of a Playground

A global awareness to environmental issues is growing day by day and everyone has to play his part: players who act on the market, consumers and public administrations. Richter Spielgeräte GmbH always made sustainability its mission, first of all through the choice to use, for its playground and play equipment, the natural material per excellence: wood. Larix decidua from Alps is used almost exclusively as raw material and, since October 2001, only wood with EN 45011 PEFC certification has been processed. This kind of certification assures that forests, where wood came from, are protected with a sustainable management, which allows them to maintain biodiversity, productivity, regeneration capacity, vitality and ecological-economic-social functions. As an added value, Richter decided not to treat with impregnating agents the wood used.

Demetra is the Italian retailer and playground assembler of Richter Spielgeräte GmbH, which has internally created a sector that deals with environmental and sustainability issues (DENVA). Therefore, a new goal arose: calculate the environmental impact associated to one of the factory-built structure. So,
in agreement with Demetra and in collaboration with the University of Milan (Politecnico), a Life Cycle Assessment study was conducted and the playground equipment chosen was the Climbing Structure 06 (Fig. 1) installed in the Aldo Moro Park in Agrate Brianza -MB-, from now on called just CS06.

A Life Cycle Assessment is a quantitative methodology which permit to estimate environmental impacts associated with all the stages of a product's life: from raw material extraction, through materials processing, manufacture, distribution and use, arriving finally to disposal or recycling process. The main interest of conducting an LCA is to highlight phases responsible of the major impacts, so that strategies can be subsequently identified in order to minimize the effects on environment and human health of the entire process. The LCA study has been conducted according to requirements exposed in the two international ISO standards, ISO 14040:2006 and ISO 14044:2006, which define the correct and shared methodology to be followed. In addition, another European standard was used, UNI EN 15804, which propose a trace to follow in LCA management on construction products, a category in which CS06 can be included.

The analysis of the Climbing Structure CS06 aimed to examine all the main effects on environment and health, in order to cover all the phases of the life cycle: from the production in Frasdorf Richter factory to the CS06 placement in an Italian construction site (Fig. 2), considering potential scenarios for dismantling.

According to the above-mentioned Standards, the study has a Cradle to Grave perspective, so processes considered can be divided in 3 main phases, which are within the System Boundaries considered (Fig. 3).

For many of the main processes (particularly for CORE phase), direct measured data were available, which allows to consider the evaluation carried out with a good level of reliability of the precise production process; for other not detected data, database ones were used. For example, the material composition of CS06 with their quantity, weight and origin was directly measured. PEFC Larix decidua wood constitutes the 82,85% of the total mass weight of the structure (Fig. 4). It receives minimal treatment before being used for the construction of the playground.

For convenience, we’ll divide all the stages into 4 different macro-areas, as described below.

The environmental impact assessment was possible thank to the use of a specific software, called Simapro and its database Ecoinvent. Different kind of calculation methods (IPCC 2013 100a, ILCD, Recipe), with relative indicators, were used. Methods and the most significative impact indicators are described in glossary and their amount are shown in each method explanation.

Global Warming Potential (GWP 100), calculated with IPCC method is 6.644,16 kg CO2 eq, divided as follows (Graphic 1): 40,3 % of the total amount is due to 7.Assembling most of all because of concrete and gravel production and placement; 33,4% derived from 6.Transports to final destination, particularly of gravel used for playground base; 17,5% of impacts are given from 1.Products and Materials, especially for Steel Feet production, followed by Flexible Net and Larch Wood. CO2 eq computed with other method falls within 0,5% of difference, so we can assume the reported value as correct.

Relevant impact categories obtained from the ILCD method are described below. Freshwater Ecotoxicity, Acidification, Photochemical Ozone Formation trends ares the same of the one shown for the GWP: impacts derived from 7. Assembling, 6. Transport to Final Destination and 1. Products and Materials together exceed 90% of total amount; the difference is that the most impactful materials are here steel and aluminum. Another significant category is Land Use impact: in this, 7. Assembling stage is the most responsible of total impacts with a percentage of 92,2% alone (Graphic 2). This is reasonable because actually a portion of land was occupied for the playground construction.

Considering Recipe method, it’s interesting underline that the 3 critical stages are again the ones carrying biggest impacts also in Human toxicity, but with a different order: 6. Transport to Final Destination represent 46,8%, 1.Products and Materials the 31,9% and 7. Assembling the 16% (Graphic 3). Other data to be highlighted are that the production of wood inside the first stage involve a certain amount of Agricultural land occupation and that there’s a significant Water Depletion in metal production process.

Here follow final considerations about results obtained:

  • Transports, in particular to final destination, are the main responsible for the overall impact in almost all categories. Exceptions are Land use impact, because the use of soil is ascribed where the structure is installed, and the consumption of water and raw materials, for which the greatest impacts come from the production of materials.
  • Production phase of the CS06 structure contribute, in the majority of categories, at about 20% of the overall impact.
  • For any impact category and in all the methods considered, the end of life phases (macro area 4) contribute negligibly to the impacts of the system.

In light of these considerations, the main improvement margins in environmental sustainability of the product are possible through an optimization of transport. However, the whole structure has a relatively low carbon footprint considering its long life (15 years long).

  • ISO 14040: 2006 Environmental management — Life cycle assessment — Principles and framework
  • ISO 14044:2006 Environmental management — Life cycle assessment — Requirements and guidelines
  • Life Cycle Assessment di un Playground: Il caso del Wooden Climbing Structure di Richter Spielgeräte – Giovanni Dotelli, Guido Scaccabarozzi. 2017

Cradle to Grave: perspective, on the environmental impact created by a product or activity, from the beginning of its life cycle to its end or disposal

System Boundaries: limits within it’s possible to determine which unit processes are to be included in LCA study

IPCC 2013: Method developed by the Intergovernamental Panel on Climate Change. The only impact category is Global Warming Potential.

ILCD: Method developed by the European Commision through Joint Research Centre. It has 16 impact assessment cetegories

Recipe: Evaluation of 18 impact categories midpont and 3 endpoint. Midpoint indicators focus on single environmental problems, for example climate change or acidification. Endpoint indicators show the environmental impact on three higher aggregation levels

Global Warming Potential (GWP 100): Greenhouse gas quantities are normally expressed in kgCO2-eq through a standardization operation based on global warming potentials of each GHG: these are calculated taking into account its radiation absorption capacity and the time of its permanence in the atmosphere. GWP 100 is intended as the contribution to climate change in terms of kg of CO2 equivalent emitted in a 100 years perspective.

Freshwater Ecotoxicity: Comparative unit of ecosystem toxicity expressed as Potentially Affected Fraction (PAF) per unit of volume over time per unit of mass of chemical emitted

Acidification: This impact category addresses the impacts from acidification generated by the emission of airborne acidifying chemicals. Acidification refers literally to processes that increase the acidity of water and soil systems by hydrogen ion concentration

Photochemical Ozone Formation: Expression of the potential contribution to the formation of photochemical ozone, related to Europe. The negative impacts from the photochemically generated pollutants are due to their reactive nature which enables them to oxidise organic molecules on the surfaces they expose.

Land Use: The impact category Land Use reflects the damage to ecosystems due to the effects of occupation and transformation of land. The impact on biodiversity is not considered in this category

Human toxicity: This category concerns the effects of toxic substances on the human environment. Health risks of exposure in the working environment are not included

Agricultural land occupation: The amount of agricultural land occupied for a certain time

Water Depletion: Cube meters of water consumed -based on Swiss Ecoscarcity 2006 characterization factors


Caterina Villa, Landscape Architect and Environmental Scientist. Always enthusiastic about issues related to environment, nature, landscape.  Seeking the fair mixture of elements capable to create resilient and sustainable territories, in which the sinergy between the balance of natural resources, sociability and the development of human activities take place. She’s been working in Demetra since 2017.

Guido Scaccabarozzi, Environmental Engineer. The passion for environmental issues pushes him to study the human impacts on the environment, through his skills on LCA and circular economy assessment methods. He believes in a balance between man and nature and he works to support companies, universities and NGOs to seek this symbiosis.He’s been working in Demetra since 2014.

Giovanni Dotelli, Full Professor of Science and Technology of Materials at the Department of Materials Chemistry and Chemical Engineering "G Natta" - Polytechnic of Milan. Graduated in 1989 in Chemical Engineering cum Laude and in 1993 he obtained a PhD in Materials Science from the Polytechnic of Milan. Teaching at university since 1994, he teaches also in the doctoral course: "Sustainability metrics, life cycle assessment and environmental footprint" of the Politecnico di Milano. He is responsible for the Mat4En2 (Materials for Energy and Environment) research laboratory.